Lab Safety Teams

By | September 6, 2010

Laboratory exploration is an essential part of every chemistry course. A major goal for this year is to give students more ownership of laboratory safety procedures. The idea of Lab Safety teams is adapted from a recent JChemEd article.

What I currently do in my Introductory & Advanced Chemistry courses

General guidelines for personal protection are enforced from day one. I used an early lesson to teach students how to read and interpret a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). From this, students make decision about how a chemical should be handled, and disposed. For each lab, students looked up this information for every chemical handled as a pre-lab (or on lab computer for impromptu chemicals). We have a class discussion summarizing our safety guidelines, and in the lab, students police each other to ensure that the guidelines are being followed.

What I’m adding in my Advanced Chemistry course

Students will be assigned to laboratory safety teams of 2-3 students.

Before Lab: Once per quarter (or semester), each team will research the hazards of a lab and ways to minimize the associated risks. The four main areas are chemical hazards, procedural hazards, personal protection equipment, and waste collection. They will design and deliver a 5 minute pre-lab presentation on responsible lab practices and potential hazard for that day’s lab. I’m debating whether a handout will also be included.

During Lab: Safety teams will act as monitors for unsafe laboratory practices, such as failure to use personal protective equipment, eating or drinking, leaving bottles uncapped, and failure to clean up spilled chemicals.

After Lab: Students will conduct a post-lab inspection. A checklist will be provided, and students are asked to honestly report on the state of the lab area. They will work to quickly remedy any identified problems with my assistance. The more efficient and effective monitoring during the lab is, the less work will be needed afterward.

Student performance on their lab safety team will be a part of the process standards in the course.

How I Plan to Introduce Lab Safety

Students will be presented with a scenario which they will spend 15 minutes in their team assessing for potential hazards. I may give each team a different scenario and have them present it to the class.

In our discussion, we will discuss risk management, highlighting the following:

  • Risk is significantly reduced by keeping the workspace clean and uncluttered.
  • Only necessary equipment and chemicals should be present. Equipment should be inspected for cracks and chips, and cords should not be frayed or melted.
  • Stored chemicals should always have a label for identification, and should be capped unless in immediate use.
  • Students are responsible for their own personal safety and their neighbors. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that anyone in the lab area is wearing appropriate PPE.

We will also discuss how to determine how waste should be handled, and precautions to be taken based on different types of toxicity or flammability.

How my role changes

It doesn’t, really. I will still monitor the lab myself, and ensure that students are wearing their PPE properly. I hope that adding the additional responsibility to students help students develop an attitude of safety-consciousness so that they can regulate themselves when I’m not standing right on top of them.

This will be an interesting addition to the course, and I hope to have positive results to report in the future.


1 Comment

John on September 6, 2010 at 2:16 pm.

This looks great. A colleague of mine does a neat little exercise where everyone is given 2 test tubes with 2 clear liquids. Then she tells them to “go find someone with the same 3rd period class as you” and all sorts of other icebreaker questions. Then she asks pairs groups to transfer some of the contents of their tubes between each other. This goes on for 4-5 pair ups, and then she adds another liquid (universal indicator) to each tube which makes some of the kid’s tubes change color (one kid’s tube had a small amount of KOH). From this, the kids can see who’s tube was the most colored “patient zero” and then map out how the outbreak (or chemical spill) traveled, and even though some people never had contact with patient zero, they did still get infected/affected by the spill.

Anyway, I thought it was a cool idea, far cooler than the flynn video so many students have to endure.

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